Steve Mulroy and Terry Roland: Odd Couple 

The Shelby County Commission — as it will exist until the results of the August 7th general election produces a successor group of 13 commissioners, mostly new ones — has seen its share of internal controversy, many of them

caused by fundamental disagreements over the famously divisive school merger. There was also a bit of a longstanding fuss a couple of years back over the method of redistricting the commission for election purposes, beginning with the races being held this year.

Beyond that, there were personal animosities and standoffs involving members — sometimes based on principle or differences in ideology, and sometimes deriving more from a sense that the commission table, like the town square in a Western movie, wasn't big enough to handle two egos of more than usual size.

Two commission members — one term-limited, one returning — were involved in such scenarios more often than most, and unduly often with each other. At least once, they seemed on the verge of coming to blows.

The outgoing member, Democrat Steve Mulroy, has been the commission's most articulate and consistent advocate of liberal viewpoints, and he was a determined opponent of the post-merger drive by six Memphis suburbs to create their own municipal school districts. Terry Roland, a Millington Republican who is unopposed in the election and will be returning for a second term, considered it his duty to uphold conservative viewpoints in general, and the suburbanite cause in particular. The two of them clashed repeatedly over the schools and numerous other issues.

But occasionally they found themselves representing a minority viewpoint and, looking around for company, found each other. Such was the case during the redistricting controversy, when Roland, an advocate of small districts, found himself at odds with his fellow Republicans and making common cause with Mulroy, who at one time had been the solitary exponent of single-member districts. Once the two of them, polar opposites in so many ways, connected on the redistricting matter, they somehow generated enough momentum that, over the course of many months, the single-district plan became a group consensus (although it still took a judge, Chancellor Arnold Goldin, to mandate the outcome).

The odd couple of Mulroy and Roland twained up again at Monday's commission meeting to produce two results that had been long in coming and may have needed the internal combustion of their collaboration in order to succeed. One was a vote in favor of a new commission ethics code, one that had been labored at for some time in isolation by Mulroy, who unexpectedly found himself being supported by Roland, who had been on the opposite side in an ethics case involving a commission colleague. Roland agreed that more specificity was needed to adjudge such matters and had some ideas of his own to contribute. Even more unexpected was the commission's surprise agreement, in tandem with the administration of Mayor Mark Luttrell, on a formula to pay for a trial year of universal pre-K in Shelby County, at a cost of $3 million in current surplus funds.

The concept of a county pre-K program had been hung up in disagreement for weeks, but the two of them, Mulroy and Roland, found the halfway point on Monday. Call the compromise result Mulroy-Roland or Roland-Mulroy, but this tango is now happily under way, in either case.

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